OPINION: Roll out the red carpet! Yes, it's that time of year again, folks. After years of planning, the first of Sir Peter Jackson's Hobbit movies gets its world premiere on Wednesday.
It's been a while since Wellington ground to a halt and bathed in the reflected glory of the Middle-earth phenomenon. So will The Hobbit premiere be as massively popular with locals as the highly successful Lord of the Rings openings? Possibly.
The Lord of the Rings movies were made in boom times. Even if Tolkien's quaint fantasies weren't your thing, you could marvel at the films' special effects and massive critical and box office success, which seemed to unite the nation.
In contrast, The Hobbit seems to have divided it. A rancorous industrial dispute, a Government so desperate to keep the film here that it changed industrial legislation, and a bit of creeping "Frodo fatigue" has meant that The Hobbit was never going to be the national love-fest that was Lord of the Rings.
Even as the first instalment is about to screen, controversy continues. A Radio New Zealand journalist was "uninvited" to the premiere for filing critical stories about the movie, then re-invited.
As The Hobbit gained free publicity from Tourism New Zealand, Warner Brothers was given sign-off on things that were not their business. And a Golden Bay tourist lodge was not allowed to say on its website that it looked out over locations used in The Hobbit.
Then last week, the movie's producers had a lawsuit slapped on them by the Tolkein Estate. They had apparently harmed the writer's reputation by including such things as online slot machines in Hobbit merchandising. One could make a movie about such bizarre events.
Here in Wellington, you could be forgiven for being Hobbitted out already. Before you fly here you receive a "Middle-earth" Air New Zealand safety video that has detractors thinking Richard Simmons wasn't so bad.
As you arrive at the airport, you are confronted by a massive statue of Gollum, who resembles a child whose mother drank too much alcohol during pregnancy. You can also buy Hobbit stamps and see giant Hobbit "miniatures" atop the New Zealand Post and Embassy buildings.
Wellington calls itself the cultural capital and does "high art" very well, but we're also very good at low-brow stuff. Ever since the 1940 Centennial Exhibition opened in Rongotai, with its fake Maori "relics", Wellington has played its part in promoting kitsch as art. The garish Kupe statue greeted visitors to the Railway Station for many years and the Cuba Mall fountain takes 1970s bad taste to a brilliant extreme.
WOW (World of Wearable Art) annually entertains the cougars of the nation with its outlandish bras and tacky gowns, and the rugby Sevens captures the limited imaginations of drunk out-of-towners as they dress as products of multinational companies such as Nokia phones or Minties wrappers.
We may laugh at the pride that the citizens of Ohakune have in their crass giant carrot but we should be just as proud of our Wellington kitsch, including The Hobbit stuff. It's up there with the best kitsch in the world.
I don't even mind that a small part of my rates pay to promote such low-brow Hollywood tat. Wellington would be a boring place if we only supported "high" culture such as theatre, opera and ballet.
So will The Hobbit movies actually be successful? Thankfully, it's not our problem. If the movies go through the roof, then our depressed tourism industry may earn a small return on the $100 million investment.
If the movie tanks, which I believe unlikely, government agencies may get a small slap on the wrist for "picking winners".
And on Thursday morning, the red carpet will have been rolled away and Courtenay Place will be back to normal, and Wellingtonians will resume doing the ordinary things that make us enjoy living in our highly liveable city.
- The Dominion Post